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Saturday April 29th, 2017 9:30AM

Another solid run leaves Larson near the series lead

By Reid Spencer-NASCAR Wire Service
  Contact Editor

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Those looking for an in-depth understanding of NASCAR’s stage-based competition format can take a lesson from Kyle Larson.

With his runner-up finish in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Larson recorded his second straight second-place run in the young Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet is leaving Las Vegas second in the series standings, trailing Brad Keselowski by a single point. Interestingly, Larson and Keselowski are the only two drivers who have scored points by finishing in the top 10 in each of the first two stages in all three races this season.

Keselowski won last week at Atlanta. Larson is seeking his first win of the year after securing his first career victory at Michigan last year.

Larson trailed Martin Truex, Jr. to the finish line at Las Vegas as Joey Logano and Kyle Busch battled for third and eventually tried to settle their differences with fisticuffs on pit road, with Busch aiming a haymaker at Logano’s head.

Larson was close enough to see the post-race action but was happy not to be involved.

“Yeah, no fist flying for me,” Larson said. “That was exciting right there, but no, awesome day for our Target team. Second in the first stage, third in the second stage and then finished second in the race. I can’t say enough about my team. I’m so proud of them. Our race cars are amazing right now. We’re going to hopefully keep building on what we’ve got and keep challenging for wins, and they will come.

“Had a lot of fun today. Had a bad restart there after the second stage and lost a lot of track position, but was able to get a good restart there on that last one. Brad, I think he was blowing up or something and (I) got lucky there and got second (when Keselowski had a mechanical problem late in the race). Back-to-back seconds – we would like to have back-to-back wins, but this is pretty awesome.”

Danica Patrick’s Engine Failure Sets Up Late-Race Pyrotechnics

With 16 laps left in Sunday’s Kobalt 400, Brad Keselowski appeared headed for his second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.

Keselowski had a comfortable lead over Martin Truex, Jr. – until the engine in Danica Patrick’s No. 10 Ford exploded as she ran in front of Stewart-Haas racing teammate Kurt Busch.

“We just got the car to a place where I think we could have got a little more racy with it, especially if we would have caught some breaks, but then it just flattened out,” Patrick said.

“I just rode around the top in case I blew up, but having a teammate behind me was not ideal for the timing of it, but unfortunately it happened. We’ll just move on.”

Patrick’s incident injected a random element into the proceedings, and altered the course of the race. A mechanical failure knocked Keselowski out of the lead and handed the win to Truex.

Joey Logano and Kyle Busch did their own version of slam dancing as they fought for third place in the final corner and later came to blows on pit road.

None of that likely would have happened, if Patrick’s engine hadn’t blown.

Flat Right Front Tire KOs Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick was steadily gaining ground from the 19th starting position in Sunday’s race when the right front tire on his No. 4 Ford exploded on lap 69 and shredded the right front fender of his car. Harvick rode the wall from the end of the tri-oval to the apex of turns 1 and 2.

His car was damaged beyond repair, and Harvick fell from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points lead to seventh in the standings.

“It started vibrating about four or five laps there before it blew out, and I was just trying to ride it to the end of the stage there,” said Harvick, who was trying to nurse the car to the end of Stage 1 on lap 80. “Obviously, it didn’t make it…

“All in all, our Mobil 1 Annual Protection Ford was running good. We were just too loose right there. It’s not like we were even tight, so it either just cut the tire, or came apart or melted the bead.”

Harvick had won three of the four early stages in the previous two races combined but scored just one point for a 38th-place finish at Las Vegas.

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